Where Are All the Black Jewelry Designers?

When Vogue Italia came out with its A Black Issue featuring all non-white models in July 2008, shot by masterful American photographer Steven Meisel, to make a point about racism and underutilized black talent in the fashion industry (see The Independent and The New York Times), I unfortunately thought about our industry.

Vogue Italia’s July 2008 gatefold cover.

From left: Liya Kebede, Sessilee Lopez, Jourdan Dunn, and Naomi Campbell

Photo: Steven Meisel for Italian Vogue

Photo via The New York Times, Beautiful Is Beautiful

Naomi Campbell on Vogue Italia

Photo: Steven Meisel for Italian Vogue

Photo via Jezebel.com

Why? Well, I came back from the JCK ~ Las Vegas Show in June, then attended JA New York in July, and booth after booth, all I saw were white faces: Where are all the black jewelry designers?

recently featured industry dynamo Russell Simmons in our June issue (click here to read), and Luxury spotlighted Chris Aire in our 2005 Designer Issue. But by and large, the designers we profile are on the lighter side of the color spectrum—that’s where the pool seems to be. But is it? (I’m happy to say that we’re diversified in our model castings and photo selections.)


Russell Simmons on the cover of JCK June 2008


Model Liya Kebede and jewelry designer Chris Aire recently teamed up during Aire’s fashion show at the ThisDay Africa Rising Music & Fashion Festival in the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images North America

Photo via Zimbio.com

Donna Chambers’
booth was a breath of fresh air in Vegas. I stopped by to look at her ancient mother-of-pearl gaming chips. She’s a talented lady who’s been in the industry a while. But where are all the others?

There are a few celebrities in our midst: Seal (Heidi Klum’s hubby) launched his line for Mouawad at JCK ~ Las Vegas, and New York socialite Genevieve Jones has an eponymous high-end line that looks promising. Home shopping networks QVC and HSN both have representation from African-American jewelry designers, but mostly in fashion or costume. Cynthia Garrett (Lenny Kravitz’s sis) is on The Q, while HSN landed supermodel/entrepreneur (and David Bowie’s better half) Iman with her Global Chic line and Miss Tina by Tina Knowles (Beyoncé’s mom).

But in addition to fashion’s runway and the jewelry industry’s trade shows, black models are all-too absent in jewelry advertising. Not so in the fashion world. VI’s A Black Issue sent shockwaves through the fashion industry, and Stefano Pilati at YSL is riding the wave (YSL already has a history of presenting a multicultural runway), featuring Naomi Campbell in the Manifesto campaign for the new Fall/Winter collection, shot by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin. Gorgeous.


Screen grab of the Naomi Campbell in the YSL Manifesto campaign

Photo via YSL.com

Though watch companies fare better (Movado’s brand ambassadors include jazz maestro Wynton Marsalis, actress Kerry Washington, and baseball’s Derek Jeter), the jewelry industry needs to take note. Jewelry assumes different qualities against varying skin tones, and looks lucious on all. Yet we only see jewels on white skin in ads. Why?

Need convincing? You have only to look at Meisel’s VI images to see the intrinsic beauty of black women, and the (selling!) power of their skin.


Naomi Campbell for Vogue Italia

Photo: Steven Meisel for Italian Vogue

Photo via The New York Times, Beautiful Is Beautiful

Sessilee Lopez for Vogue Italia

Photo: Steven Meisel for Italian Vogue

Photo via SessileeLopez.blogspot.com

Tyra Banks

Photo: Steven Meisel for Italian Vogue

Photo via The New York Times, Beautiful Is Beautiful


Tyra, PhotoShop’d (amateurishly, by moi) with a Mikimoto pearl earring…can’t you see it?

Girl With a Pearl Earring | Johannes Vermeer, circa 1665 to 1667

Photo via FineArtPrintsOnDemand.com


I applaud Vogue Italia for its statement but also for its execution of undeniably beautiful and incomparable photography. I write this at the end of New York Fashion Week, happy to have seen somewhat less whitewashed runways. But for our industry, too, I hope to see a more colorful populace (in person at trade shows, in magazines, and in advertising). After all, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 40.2 million is, “as of July 1, 2006, the estimated population of black residents in the United States, including those of more than one race. They made up 13.4 percent of the total U.S. population.” (Source: Population estimates.)

  • If you’re a black designer, weigh in! Do you attend trade shows? If not, tell us why.
  • If you’re involved with marketing and collateral, do you use black models in advertising campaigns? Yes? Give us a link. No? Tell us your honest thoughts.
  • And if you’re a jewelry enthusiast who knows of some great black talents who don’t get much ink, use this post as a forum to highlight that talent.

Above all, let’s share, discuss, and heed the Mahogany Model Management campaign VI spawned,


Mahogany Model Management’s Black But Invisible campaign

Photo via MahoganyModelManagement.com